THE BANNER of the New Communist Party (NCP) Central Committee was among hundreds of banners of anti-fascist, anti-racist and left-wing parties and groups marching through London’s East End last Sunday to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street.
In this month in 1936 the working class people of the East End – including dockers and their families, Jewish and Irish immigrants, and left-wing refugees from the fascist regimes in Italy and Germany – came out on to the streets en masse to block the path of a march planned by Sir Oswald Mosley’s fascist Blackshirts.
The leaderships of the Labour Party and the British Board of Jewish Deputies had told their members to stay indoors and ignore the fascists. But the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) mobilised at short notice – abandoning a previously planned rally in Trafalgar Square – to urge the people to come out onto the streets and make a stand against the fascists.
They did not take much urging; they came out eagerly and built barricades of overturned vehicles, furniture and whatever was to hand.
Massive numbers of police, including mounted police, charged the crowds repeatedly to try to clear a path for the fascists, attacking the people with considerable brutality and making many arrests.
But the people would not be dislodged and eventually the police gave up and the fascist march was abandoned.
It was a significant turning point in the fortunes of fascist organisation in Britain. It gave courage to local populations throughout London and the whole country to challenge the fascists whenever they tried again to march.
One of those taking part was the young Max Levitas, a Jewish member of the Communist Party, whose job it was to knock on doors and urge the people to come out and stop the fascists.
And he was there again last Sunday at the rally in St Mary’s Churchyard in Cable Street, aged 101, to speak to the crowd and warn that the dangers of racism and fascism have not gone away but are still very real today.
A young woman taking part in the crowd blocking Mosley’s march in 1936 went on to become the mother of Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party.
Corbyn also spoke to the rally in St Mary’s Churchyard, close to the giant mural of the battle of Cable Street, and mentioned his mother telling him as a child of the need to oppose racism and fascism.
Corbyn went on to call for unity to oppose all forms of racism/bigotry, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
Last Sunday’s march set out from Altab Ali Park in the Whitechapel Road, named after a young Muslim who was murdered nearby by racists in 1978.
It was a colourful and noisy march, with plenty of music from a local Jewish band on the march and our Italian communist friends from the Partito Comunista Gran Bretagna-Sezione Pietro Secchia singing Italian Communist songs.
The march was a couple of thousand strong but police had not closed the roads, forcing marchers to make their procession on the pavement and in cycle lanes – at some parts too narrow to allow for banners to pass facing forwards.
The Metropolitan Police are under pressure to prioritise the needs of commerce and big business over historical anniversaries.
But the fascists are still being kept out of the East End of London. Five years ago the Islamophobic English Defence League (EDL), at the height of its powers, tried to lead a mass march along the Whitechapel Road past the biggest mosque in Britain.
But the local community, including Muslims, Jews, Christians, communists and many others again came together for a demonstration that blocked the road. Police had to contain the racists in Aldgate, to the west of the boundary with the City of London.
After that the EDL found itself blocked by local anti-racist communities in Brighton, Bristol, Colchester and many other places. It declined and has split into warring ineffectual fragments. Further attempts by the EDL and its splinters to pass through London’s East End have been total failures.